Local Company Crediting Residents For ‘Unacceptable’ Planning
Following a historic settlement, a Hudson Valley company credited customers $3.4 million for poor storm planning.
On Thursday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a nearly $72 million settlement with Altice following the company's failure to adequately prepare for and restore broadband and cable television service after the August 2020 Tropical Storm Isaias left more than 400,000 Altice customers without service, some for as long as 14 days.
On August 4, 2020, Tropical Storm Isaias struck New York, bringing strong winds and heavy rain that particularly impacted the Mid-Hudson Valley, New York City, and Long Island regions. The storm caused extensive damage to electric distribution and telecommunication infrastructures that, in turn, led to lengthy outages for a substantial number of New York utility customers, including more than 400,000 Altice customers.
"It is beyond unacceptable to leave hundreds of thousands of customers without the ability to access the Internet, especially during a time when so many people rely on broadband for work and school," Governor Cuomo said. "This settlement makes it clear that telecommunication companies in New York have an obligation to prepare for severe weather and to develop robust storm-response programs, and if they fail to adequately do that job we will hold them accountable and force them to change the way they do business."
Following the power and communication outages caused by the tropical storm, Governor Cuomo directed the Department of Public Service to immediately investigate the utilities' preparations and response to the storms.
The report highlighted the need for modification to existing statutes or regulations to require the filing and annual updating of more robust emergency contingency plans, similar to those required of electric utilities, in order to improve the preparedness and response to future storms and other emergencies by major telephone and cable television companies, according to Cuomo's office.
The investigation found Altice had apparently failed to adhere to many significant aspects of its response plan and associated severe weather preparedness plan, which contributed to Altice's inability to timely restore service and effectively communicate to customers experiencing outages, officials say. The apparent violations involved include failure to make sufficient readiness plans and post-storm restoration, poor customer service and communications, and inadequate communication and coordination with government officials and electric utilities, according to Cuomo's office.
Under the terms of the settlement agreement, Altice will spend $68.54 million to improve the storm resiliency of their system and make other upgrades, without billing customers for the upgrades, and has provided $3.4 million in credits to New York customers impacted by Tropical Storm Isaias.
An Altice spokesperson tells Hudson Valley Post credits were already automatically applied to impacted customers in the billing cycle following last year’s storm.
"Altice USA has been working with the NY PSC since Storm Isaias last summer to jointly examine opportunities for enhancements in how we communicate and engage with our customers, communities, and public officials during severe weather events. We appreciate the dialogue with the NY PSC as we look to ensure that the long-term service investments we're making continue to improve the customer experience and benefit all our tri-state area customers," Altice stated.
In addition to the $3.4 million in customer credits and the $68.54 million in action items, Altice has also agreed to undertake a series of programmatic, administrative, and policy "improvements" to its storm-related operations to improve the company's performance in planning for and recovering from future severe weather events. For example, Altice has agreed to work toward amending it contracts with certain third-party contractors to allow for greater certainty regarding the number of third-party contractor resources available during storm recovery.
The $72 million settlement is the largest ever in New York State for any company under Public Service Commission jurisdiction for failing to follow procedures related to emergency response, officials say.